Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Bone marrow suppression

The side effects of chemotherapy depend on the type of chemotherapy and the amount given. Anticipating and managing side effects can help to minimize them and provide the best possible experience for the person receiving chemotherapy.

What is bone marrow suppression?
What are symptoms of bone marrow suppression?

What is bone marrow suppression?

As each person’s individual medical profile and diagnosis is different, so is his or her reaction to treatment. Side effects may be severe, mild or absent. Be sure to discuss with your cancer care team any/all possible side effects of treatment before the treatment begins.

Nearly all chemotherapy agents suppress the bone marrow, which causes a reduction in the number of blood cells. The timing of this reduction varies according to which agents are used for your treatment. Red blood cells carry oxygen, white blood cells fight infection, and platelets help to control bleeding and bruising. Thus, the risks for anemia, fatigue, infection bleeding and bruising are increased with bone marrow suppression.

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What are symptoms of bone marrow suppression?

The following are the most common symptoms of bone marrow suppression; however, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Please let your cancer care team know if you are experiencing these symptoms.

Symptoms of a low red blood cell count may include the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Paleness of skin, lips and nail beds
  • Increased heart rate
  • Easy tiring with exertion
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath

Symptoms of a low white blood cell count may include the following:

  • Fever and chills
  • Rash
  • Diarrhea
  • Signs of infection (anywhere in the body):
    • Swelling
    • Redness
    • An area that is warm to touch

Symptoms of a low platelet count may include the following:

  • Easy bruising
  • Bleeding: nose bleeds, gums or mouth
  • Tiny red spots on the skin
  • Blood in the urine
  • Dark or black bowel movements

The symptoms of bone marrow suppression may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician or nurse practitioner for a diagnosis.

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